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Syrian conflict

Compromise needed in Syrian tragedy

The involvement of neighbouring nations and the US strategy risks further clashes, spelling even greater catastrophe for the war-torn region

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 5:02am
UPDATED : Thursday, 25 January, 2018, 5:28am

The tragedy of Syria has entered a dangerous phase. Turkey’s ramped up involvement and a new United States strategy that focuses on extremists and Iran could too easily lead to clashes between rival militaries.

The risk of such conflict could then drag in allies, with catastrophic results for the Middle East and beyond.

Disaster awaits if self-interest gets in the way of the quest for peace and the United Nations Security Council continues to handle the conflict so ineffectually.

Seemingly forgotten are Syria’s 18 million people. Since the civil war began in 2011 with protests calling for President Bashar al-Assad to resign, almost 500,000 have been killed, 5.4 million live as refugees in other countries and 6.1 million are internally displaced.

Assad slams Turkey’s Syria offensive as ‘support for terrorism’

Successive UN-backed talks have achieved little and there is scant hope more such dialogue in Vienna this week will find the compromise that has been lacking.

Assad controls only half of the nation and refuses to step aside as the US, its allies and the rebel groups they back with weapons, funds and training want; he is kept in power through the military support of Russia and Iranian-backed militants.

Complicating matters are the involvement of Turkey and the support by Saudi Arabia and Qatar of rebel, religious and extremist groups.

Turkish troops have moved into northern Syria to push out Kurdish militias that the nation considers terrorists.

But the Syrian Kurdish fighters are backed by the US and have been instrumental in clawing back territory from the extremist group Islamic State, which now controls only small pockets of land in Syria and Iraq.

Defeating IS and other extremists was the main priority of a new strategy announced by US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson last week, a plan that clashes with Turkey’s interests.

Equally worrying was a focus on Iran, which is claimed to have followed Russia’s lead by establishing a military base in Syria, an alarming prospect for neighbouring Israel.

Syria’s chaos has provided an opportunity for nations and extremists to vie for strategic influence, territory and political gain.

Instability across northern Syria and Iraq enabled the rise of IS, which drew tens of thousands of followers from around the world, including China’s autonomous region of Xinjiang. China and other nations now face the worrying prospect of battle-hardened fighters returning home.

The UN has to be more resolute in seeking peace. Strategies by Assad and the US and their allies have so far been fragmented, with tactics centred on self-interest.

Only with coordination and compromise is there a chance of stability so the devastated country can be rebuilt to allow a return of the displaced and refugees. The path governments are on will only lead to further tragedy.